Shenzhen is to many a modern miracle, the most tangible evidence of China’s return to the world stage after economic reform. The “fishing village turned metropolis” moniker may be over used but the three decade explosion of this former backwater has created a uniquely configured city, still conjuring an identify for itself as it absorbs influences from all quarters of China and abroad.
The flashy, modern districts of Luohu, Futian and Nanshan hug the border with Hong Kong. Together they conjure a gilded façade for the People’s Republic of China – a deliberate buffer between Hong Kong and the factory sprawl of Bao’an and Dongguan to the north.
Luohu is one of the oldest districts and though a tad grubby, it is still considered downtown. Near the border you’ll find Shenzhen’s primary transport hub – Luohu Bus Station connects with many major towns in Guangdong Province and Shenzhen Train Station, just opposite, offers services to destinations all over China.
Luohu is a paradise for foodies with a colourful choice of street eats and restaurants, notably Indian and Cantonese fare. Luohu is also hot with shoppers: many international brands have located their flagship stores there, including Prada and Topshop. Of course, bargain hunters prefer to sift through the mountains of factory discharge in Dongmen, a vibrant shopping street that is home to China’s first McDonald’s. If the hotel touts and crowds get a bit too much, Luohu offers a remarkable rural respite – a forty-minute bus journey passed the reservoir carries adventurers from downtown to Wutong Mountain, a popular hiking spot that is also home to a fledgling community of artists.
Though Shenzhen’ tallest building, the Kingkey 100, is situated in Luohu, Futian District is chasing “downtown” status with major development projects that should see it overtaking outmoded Luohu in the coming years. A cluster of glass skyscrapers and five-star hotels set alongside broad avenues comprise Shenzhen’s Central Business District (CBD). Ping An Insurance is erecting what will be the city’s tallest building just next to the Coco Park shopping mall and a high-speed train will connect Futian with Hong Kong and Guangzhou by 2014.
Further West, Nanshan District comprises of a lot of modern though visually generic high-rise apartment buildings. The two major points of interests lie at either end of the district. The Overseas Chinese Town (OCT) is a green and unhurried neighbourhood filled with great restaurants and chilled coffee shops. The OCT is also home to one of the city’s fledgling creative parks, the OCT Loft, where one can checkout contemporary art and design as well as the occasional touring band.
At the other end of Nanshan, Shekou, like Luohu, is deemed “old Shenzhen.” The place where reform-era China began is now a busy port and vibrant international business area. Shekou is home to Shenzhen’s largest expat community. Many of the resident “laowai” can be seen getting their rocks off in Seaworld, an eclectic square of bars and restaurants.